While cruising through mountain towns, I always make it a point to stop at the local gear shop. They’re usually smallish, but full of character, staffed by dirtbaggy locals and stuffed to the rafters with a small, but well-curated selection of “oh shit” items (i.e. the stuff you broke, lost, or forgot) and “hell yeah” items (i.e. the stuff that supports your stoke). Sure, they’re in the business of selling things, but sometimes I feel like that’s really a means to a more altruistic end: to celebrate what we love with a community of likeminded folks.
My list of favorites seems to grow every year, from tiny Elevation, which holds court in the much larger shadow of Mt. Whitney, to the astonishingly spacious dream cabin layout of Fayetteville’s Pack Rat Outdoor Center, to The Trailhead, a Buena Vista outfitter that not only shares space with a cozy café, but also provided me safe haven during a monsoonal epic on the Colorado Trail. But for the last twelve years—nearly the entire length of time I’ve lived in Los Angeles—one outdoor shop has ruled them all: Adventure 16, located in West L.A. just a few wheel turns from the junction of perhaps the two busiest highways in the country.
During my first visit, I lingered at the doorway to take in the scope of my suddenly non-urban surrounds—a wood-shingled oasis bedecked with colorful gear like so many holiday decorations, and dotted with a collection of rustic furnishings that could very well have been carved by a beaver with rather refined tastes. What wall space wasn’t covered with gear displays was decorated with photos and posters and maps and local flyers. And near the front entrance sat an antique stove topped with coffee and fixings for customers. I immediately felt like I belonged; that in Adventure 16, I’d found the perfect homebase for my identity as an urbanite who loved to play in the dirt.
Over the years, I returned often, sometimes weekly. Adventure 16—A16 to its faithful—is where I bought my first pair of climbing shoes (and then, my second), my first harness, and my first helmet. It’s where I prepared for my inaugural snow camping experience as part of a class that I now help teach, where I attended slideshows and presentations about mountains that I would later climb, and where I bought one-off copies of magazines that I now subscribe to—and write for. And when I published a book a few years back, the kind folks at A16 hosted the release party.
In time, A16 became as much a part of my outdoor life in Los Angeles as the mountains that stretch across the city’s north side, so I was heartbroken to learn that it will shutter at the end of the year (after 57 years in business and a long struggle and lots of winnowing, its last two stores are closing). It felt immediately personal, as these sorts of closures—your favorite coffee joint, your favorite bookstore, your favorite record shop—often do. But my mourning was rooted even more deeply in the fact that our city—an unlikely mountain town straining against the weight of cars and concrete and other people’s misconceptions—was losing a home place for its outdoor community.
I know that some people will read this and scoff. Los Angeles has long been an easy punchline, especially to those who live in places like Bend and Boulder and Bozeman, the sort of snowbound, forested fantasy lands lauded as the ultimate escape from places just like this. But despite our infamous urban sprawl, L.A., too, is an outdoor town. We hike and climb and kayak and picnic and run and bike and meditate and fish. Our mountains, small as they may be in comparison to the places listed above, host coyotes and bobcats and mountain lions who reclaim the city in their twilight wanderings. Our people wind along the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains to sneak in a weekday camping session with city lights twinkling below, starlight sparkling above. We gather into urban peletons, cruising through the city streets and along the Los Angeles River in a whoosh of pure joy. We rise for dawn patrol in the Pacific, some of us even living out the truism that you can surf in the morning, and ski in the evening.
Yes, we can still buy our gear at the big-name outdoor chain with several SoCal outposts; most folks living in big cities can do the same. But Adventure 16 was our mountain shop. A place where you could come in to purchase a new pack, and leave with a head full of inspiration for where you might carry it. Where you could settle in to enjoy a film screening, and depart with plans to drag your crash pad to Stoney Point the following weekend with some fellow moviegoers. Where you could run into old friends, exchange conversation with kindred spirits, lose yourself in the possibility of a map on the wall. Where you could realize that you aren’t alone as a city girl at heart with mountains tugging at her soul.
Photos by Shawnté Salabert (top), Adventure 16